Pres­i­dent Trump, our troops are not toy sol­diers

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAND - Rex W. Hup­pke rhup­pke@chicagotri­bune.com

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump thinks he’s play­ing with toy sol­diers.

Hav­ing ginned up a “cri­sis” at Amer­ica’s bor­der with Mex­ico, hav­ing conned his faith­ful into view­ing a slow-mov­ing and al­ready dis­pers­ing car­a­van of mi­grants as an in­vad­ing force that must be re­pelled, the pres­i­dent is now de­ploy­ing thou­sands of Amer­i­can sol­diers to the bor­der.

But these are not toy sol­diers Trump can move around a game board. This is a mas­sive force of hu­man be­ings — it started as 5,000 troops, but the pres­i­dent has said it could grow to 15,000 — and a de­ploy­ment this large car­ries in­her­ent risks for the sol­diers in­volved.

The risks of an armed con­flict are close to zero, given that there’s no armed en­emy to be con­fronted. In fact, de­spite all the ab­surd sug­ges­tions of an im­mi­nent in­va­sion, it’ll be a good two months be­fore any mem­ber of the car­a­van ar­rives at the clos­est U.S. bor­der en­try point.

No, the great­est risk for our sol­diers are the ac­ci­dents that can hap­pen any­time troops are de­ployed. Ve­hi­cles crash. Sol­diers get in­jured op­er­at­ing heavy ma­chin­ery. There’s psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress, ill­ness and heat ex­haus­tion.

A Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port re­leased in June found that from 2006 to 2018, nearly 4,600 ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary per­son­nel were killed in ac­ci­dents dur­ing non­com­bat op­er­a­tions, re­ferred to in the re­port as “cir­cum­stances un­re­lated to war.”

A 2014 study in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Medicine found: “Ac­ci­dents are a lead­ing cause of ac­tive duty deaths in the U.S. Mil­i­tary, ex­ceed­ing sui­cides and, in most years, com­bat fa­tal­i­ties.”

Ac­ci­dents hap­pen. Lives get lost.

A book spon­sored by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice — “Strate­gies to Pro­tect the Health of De­ployed U.S. Forces” — ex­plains why de­ploy­ing forces into “un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ments is in­her­ently risky.”

The book notes that dur­ing a de­ploy­ment, “threats to the health and safety of troops might be mul­ti­plied or mag­ni­fied, while the means to ame­lio­rate or avoid them might be cir­cum­scribed. … Troops might also be un­der con­sid­er­able psy­cho­log­i­cal stress owing to sep­a­ra­tion from fam­ily and fa­mil­iar set­tings. This might be com­pli­cated by fa­tigue and a rapid op­er­a­tional tempo in which ev­ery task has height­ened im­por­tance yet re­duced mar­gins for com­ple­tion and er­ror.”

This ob­scene piece of po­lit­i­cal the­ater — dis­patch­ing Amer­i­can sol­diers en masse in re­sponse to a mi­gra­tion that presents a threat only in the fever dreams of fact-averse Trump sup­port­ers — will come with a cost. A hefty fi­nan­cial one, to be sure, but more con­cern­ing is what this will cost the brave men and women whose ser­vice the com­man­der-in-chief is us­ing as a prop for next week’s midterm elec­tions.

There is no cri­sis at the bor­der.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s Of­fice of Im­mi­gra­tion Sta­tis­tics, there were 170,000 suc­cess­ful il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings in 2016. In 2000, that number was 1.8 mil­lion. That means the number of il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings has dropped 91 per­cent.

Amer­ica man­aged to sur­vive just fine when there were 1.8 mil­lion il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings per year. I’m pretty con­fi­dent we can han­dle a ragged band of what’s now be­lieved to be about 4,000 peo­ple, a number that surely will fol­low the trend of past car­a­vans and drop sig­nif­i­cantly as the group moves north through Mex­ico.

Along with the risks our thou­sands of sol­diers will face tak­ing part in this op­er­a­tion, there are also the hard­ships their ab­sence will place on fam­i­lies left be­hind.

A 2015 re­port by the Johns Hop­kins School of Nurs­ing re­viewed 26 dif­fer­ent stud­ies on the im­pact of mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment on fam­i­lies and found that “de­ploy­ment is as­so­ci­ated with more stress and men­tal health prob­lems in par­ents and young children, in­creased use of men­tal health care by spouses/ part­ners and children, and greater like­li­hood of child mal­treat­ment.”

It also found that “the height­ened stress of de­ploy­ment on civil­ian spouses left to care for their children can have sig­nif­i­cant and po­ten­tially lon­glast­ing ad­verse ef­fects on young children’s well­be­ing.”

These sol­diers will be apart from their fam­i­lies at least for Thanks­giv­ing, and pos­si­bly the De­cem­ber hol­i­days as well.

That is a soldier’s job — to step up and go when your coun­try needs you. I’ve had the plea­sure of know­ing and writ­ing about many ac­tive-duty sol­diers and vet­er­ans, and I know their sense of duty will lead them to the bor­der to fol­low or­ders and com­pete their mis­sion with­out com­plaint.

Their fam­i­lies know the risks as well, and they ac­cept them bravely.

But those of us who aren’t bound to fol­low mil­i­tary or­ders shouldn’t ac­cept this non­sense. Any­one with brains enough to rattle knows this de­ploy­ment is un­nec­es­sary. It’s en­dan­ger­ing our troops and tak­ing them away from their fam­i­lies so our pres­i­dent can stoke fear and act like he’s the tough guy who will pro­tect Amer­ica.

He’s not tough. He’s treat­ing men and women who have vol­un­teered to fight and die for this coun­try like toy sol­diers.

They aren’t. They’re hu­man be­ings whose lives are be­ing up­ended and whose safety is be­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily put at risk, all for a show.

This is re­al­ity tele­vi­sion for Trump.

But it’s real life for the sol­diers.

And their lives shouldn’t be toyed with.

SE­NIOR AIR­MAN ALEXAN­DRA MINOR/U.S. AIR FORCE

Sol­diers from Fort Ri­ley, Kan., ar­rive Thursday in Har­lin­gen, Texas, to con­duct mis­sions along the south­ern bor­der.

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